The United States Department of Agriculture recently announced the first confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 in a snow leopard (panthera uncia) at the Louisville Zoo. Three of the zoos snow leopards were tested for SARS-CoV-2 after showing signs of respiratory illness. All three cats are experiencing mild symptoms and are expected to recover fully. It is suspected that these animals acquired infection from an asymptomatic staff member, despite precautions taken by the zoo.
This finding, while concerning, isn’t necessarily surprising. SARS-CoV-2 has previously been confirmed in other felids including tiers, lions, puma, and domestic cats, as well as in mink and domestic canines. Human to human transmission to continues to drive the COVID-19 pandemic, and risk of transmission to humans from infected animals remains low. To date, mink are the only species believed capable of reintroducing the virus to humans, based on surveillance findings from farmed mink production facilities in Denmark. There is currently no evidence to suggest that felids or canids are capable of spreading the virus to humans.
SARs-CoV-2 was also recently confirmed in a free-ranging wild mink via surveillance conducted in wildlife surrounding positive mink farms in Utah. The strain isolated from this animal was identical to strains circulating in the farmed mink and various factors were used to determine the mink was wild and had not escaped from a nearby facility. Other wild populations sampled during this surveillance tested negative for the virus, and USDA Wildlife Services has stated that there is currently no evidence that the virus has established itself in wild populations.
This serves as a reminder that there is still much to learn about this virus and the various species that could be susceptible.